Veteran Parliamentarian and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, founder member of BJP who is held in high esteem across the political spectrum, was on Friday conferred with Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, by President Pranab Mukherjee In a departure from protocol, Mukherjee drove to Vajpayee’s residence at Krishna Memon marg in Lutyens’ Delhi and presented to the ailing BJP leader the prestigious award, the country’s highest civilian honour.
The event, which was attended by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh along with some close family members, was kept away from the media glare. Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004, and has faded from public life due to age-related illness, is lauded as a statesman and has been often described as the moderate face of BJP.
He has been credited with taking bold initiatives, notable among them being the historic bus journey to Lahore in 1999 when he signed the landmark Lahore Declaration with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with both sides pledging to push for peace and security.
Later, a tea party was hosted in the lawns of the residence which was attended by union ministers and state Chief Ministers including Jammu and Kashmir’s Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. The announcement for a Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, the first Prime Minister from outside the Congress party to serve a full five-year term, came on December 24, a day before he turned 90.
Vajpayee’s detractors called him the “mask” of RSS but still always had good words for him. Regarded as one of the most charismatic leaders, he was lauded as a statesman politician whose acceptability across the board broke barriers and brought BJP to centre stage of politics in the late 1990s after the demolition of Babri Masjid.